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Saturday, 06 July 2024 23:13

Djokovic rises to Alexei Popyrin challenge and reaches fourth round.

By Charlotte Coates.

Seven-time champion Novak Djokovic came from a set down to book his place in the Wimbledon fourth round with victory over Australia's Alexei Popyrin.

After a slow start on Centre Court, Djokovic, who has 24 Grand Slam titles, won 4-6 6-3 6-4 7-6 (7-3).

He will play Holger Rune next after the Danish 15th seed mounted a comeback of his own, prevailing over Frenchman Quentin Halys in five sets having trailed by two.

"A very challenging match, I think mentally as well, to hang in there," said Djokovic.

"I was not allowed to have too big concentration lapses. I think I've done well in that regard. That was one of the best tie-breaks I've played this year, that's for sure."

Popyrin, who had never been beyond the second round in four previous visits to Wimbledon, came out with intent and took the first set with a break of serve in game seven.

But a lengthy break before the start of the second set as the roof was closed played into Djokovic's hands, as the Serb started to find his rhythm.

The 37-year-old, still sporting a knee support on his right leg following surgery in June, broke Popyrin in the fourth game.

There was a brief interruption to play late in the set when fans on Centre Court burst into celebration as England beat Switzerland on penalties to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2024.

Fortunately, both players saw the funny side as Djokovic mimicked kicking a football and Popyrin raised his arms to imitate making a save.

Djokovic went on to wrap up the set with his 1,000th ace in the men's singles at Wimbledon - just the sixth male player to achieve that feat.

Momentum remained with Djokovic in the third, breaking Popyrin in the first game, and he dropped just three points on serve before another ace sealed the set.

The fourth set proved a much tighter affair, with Djokovic missing three break points before a tie-break was required to settle the match.

"I didn't expect anything less than what we experienced on the court today from Alexei," Djokovic added.

"With that serve and powerful forehand, he's dangerous on any surface.

"I knew he was in form and he was going to come out believing he can win. He was the better player in the first set. I think I played a good second and third and the fourth was anybody's game.

Meanwhile Ben Shelton says he is "100% ready to go the distance" again after coming through a third successive five-set match to reach the Wimbledon fourth round.

The American 14th seed defeated 2021 semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 6-4 4-6 6-2 on Court One.

Up next for Shelton is world number one Jannik Sinner on Sunday.

It will be a huge task for the 21-year-old, who has played on five of the six days in the Championships so far.

However, Shelton said he is "really excited" about facing the Italian and "always confident in my abilities, no matter who is on the other side of the net".

He has followed in the footsteps of his father and coach Bryan, who reached the last 16 at Wimbledon 30 years ago.

Resuming from Friday with Shelton leading 3-2 in the first set, both players held firm on their serve to set up a tie-break which the Canadian took.

Mistakes from Shelton put him on the back foot but he used an excitable crowd to take the next two sets with some fantastic serving.

However, Shapovalov fought back to force Shelton into another deciding set.

Buoyed by the American support in the crowd, Shelton produced a host of brilliant forehand winners to book his place in the last 16 in three hours and five minutes.

Elsewhere, fifth seed Daniil Medvedev set up a meeting with 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov after beating German Jan-Lennard Struff 6-1 6-3 4-6 7-6 (7-3).

Frenchman Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard became the fifth lucky loser in the Open era to reach the fourth round with a 4-6 6-2 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 win over 87th-ranked Emil Ruusuvuori.

Perricard's reward is a meeting with Italian 25th seed Lorenzo Musetti, who beat Argentina's Francisco Comesana 6-2 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3.

German fourth seed Alexander Zverev, who defeated Britain's Cameron Norrie, will face Taylor Fritz in the fourth round after the American 13th seed won 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 7-5 against Chile's Alejandro Tabilo.

Fellow Frenchman Ugo Humbert defeated American Brandon Nakashima 7-6 (11-9) 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (8-6) and will play defending champion Carlos Alcaraz.

Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut beat Italy's Fabio Fognini in another five-setter, coming through 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 7-5 6-7 (1-7) 4-6. He will play American 12th seed Tommy Paul on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Australian ninth seed Alex de Minaur was handed a walkover when Frenchman Lucas Pouille withdrew with an abdominal injury before their third-round match.

De Minaur will meet Arthur Fils in round four after the unseeded Frenchman beat Russia's Roman Safiullin 4-6 6-3 1-6 6-4 6-3.